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Gov.-elect Tom Corbett's transition team includes many campaign contributors

HARRISBURG - Gov.-elect Tom Corbett's transition team has a lot more to offer than expertise on energy policy, welfare reform, and education programs.

HARRISBURG - Gov.-elect Tom Corbett's transition team has a lot more to offer than expertise on energy policy, welfare reform, and education programs.

Many of the members also have access to plenty of money; during the campaign, they handed bundles of it to Corbett.

Together, transition-team members contributed $1.9 million to the Pittsburgh-area Republican's gubernatorial campaign, and companies they work for, their co-workers, and political action committees controlled by their employers kicked in $2.7 million.

That's nearly 19 percent of the $24.5 million the Corbett campaign spent on the primary and general elections.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor-elect and his top advisers did not consider campaign contributions - or even party affiliation - when they picked transition-team members.

Some, such as State Rep. Tom Caltagirone of Bucks County, are Democrats. Others, such as Citizens Bank chief executive Dan Fitzpatrick, contributed to the gubernatorial campaign of Corbett's Democratic opponent, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.

Two-thirds, though, have a financial relationship to the Corbett campaign. They, their companies, or their colleagues contributed to Corbett, to Lt. Gov.-elect Jim Cawley, or to political action committees that pumped money into their campaigns.

The transition-team member who gave the most to Corbett - $334,286 over the last three years - was Vahan Gureghian, a Gladwyne lawyer who operates the state's largest charter school and owns a billboard company.

Gureghian was tapped to serve on the education committee and to lead the 27-member transportation committee, along with two former administrators of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

He did not respond to a request for comment.

Harley said members were asked not to speak to reporters about their work because "the transition is not really a public event."

Observers have said the committees are packed with Republicans and lobbyists who have an interest in guiding policy and are willing to pay for access to decision-makers.

"Every donor would claim they contributed out of an interest in supporting a candidate who reflects their values and ideology, not because they expect any policy favors or anything. But at the very least, they expect access," said Jan Jarrett, executive director of PennFuture, a statewide environmental group with no representatives on the transition team.

Government watchdog Barry Kauffman agreed.

"Getting access is probably 50 percent of the game. If you can get in and make your pitch on the things that are important to you, you have a significantly elevated prospect of winning," said Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

The government transition in New York is being handled differently, said Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. There, she said, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo "made it a point not to name any contract lobbyists to his transition team."

Harley said the only thing campaign donors will get for their contributions is the satisfaction of knowing they helped elect a governor with an ideology similar to their own.

"Any campaign contributor who believes they're going to get something in return other than good government will find out they're sadly mistaken," he said.

Still, he acknowledged that many of Corbett's top financial supporters received invitations to serve on the transition team.

He said committee members would not recommend policy. Rather, he said, they will meet with department heads, point out which programs are working best, recommend efficiencies, and identify issues Corbett will need to address during his first few months in office.

Jim Burn, chairman of the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party, said he was concerned that lobbyists and industry executives would play advisory roles.

"They're going to be looking at departments through a jaded prism. These folks have a stake in the game," he said.

Lobbyists from Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, a Pittsburgh law firm, funneled more than $134,000 to the Corbett campaign, according to contribution records kept by the Department of State. The firm wound up with 11 of its lobbyists appointed to the transition team, including three to top spots on Corbett's core team of advisers.

The firm has numerous clients whose businesses are affected by state regulators. They include companies in the energy, health, telecommunications, transportation, biotechnology, banking, and insurance industries, according to lobbying disclosure reports.

The lobbying firm Greenlee Partners provided $32,000 to Corbett and wound up with seats on the transition team's insurance and commonwealth committees. The firm's clients include insurance providers, auto manufacturers, banks, and casinos.

The Harrisburg law firm McNees, Wallace & Nurick, whose associates provided $140,000, mostly through a political action committee, is represented on two committees: energy and transportation.

Jefferson Health System president David Simon gave the campaign $20,000, and some of his employees gave a total of $3,400. Simon was named co-chairman of the insurance and welfare committees and serves on the health and aging committee. The health center's director and senior counsel, Todd Shamash, also was named to three committees.

Corbett could have instilled more confidence in the direction of his administration if his transition team were more balanced, Kauffman said.

"Certainly, the governor is entitled to have anyone he wants to advise him do so. I just think the governor would be better served if he broadened the base of those he asks to do the advising," he said. "The transition team is "weighted very heavily with lobbyists and people who are doing - or who want to do - business with the state."